St. Vincent de Paul Louisville was, and still is, Shirley Jett’s home away from home.
“I just feel so at home here,” Jett said. “I always tell people that I went to school here and got married here.”
Now 87-years-old, Jett recalls growing up right down the street from our Shelby Park campus and has fond moments and celebrated milestones here.
Her uncle was a janitor at St. Paul Catholic Church and rang the church bells for Sunday services.
After her mom passed away when Jett was in first grade, she attended St. Paul School from first through eighth grade. She had to iron her own uniform at the age of six. The Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph taught her class. Her graduating class was 12 students.
Though she didn’t have “good memories” of her childhood at home, this place was a safe haven for her.
On Dec. 29, 1956, she married Frank at the altar of St. Paul Catholic Church two years after graduating high school.
“I chose that because it was my second home. I was close here,” Jett said. “The altar was still here and it was all decorated with poinsettias.”
The Jetts had seven children in eight years—three boys, four girls—and times were tough to make ends meet. SVDP conferences—groups of volunteers scattered throughout Louisville serving those in need—stepped up to help.
“It was hard, very hard. I guess my first time at St. Vincent de Paul was around 1960 and they gave me a $10 food order for groceries,” Jett added. “They helped me many times with food. I remember one Christmas two men came over to my house and they gave me a $100 food order. I never will forget that and I cried … and I went across the street to get my oldest son, Tony, a winter coat.”
These simple acts of kindness are why Jett calls SVDP her “second home.”
“That’s why I’m so devoted to St. Vincent de Paul now,” Jett said. “Every month, I give them money and I’m trying to pay back for how they helped me. It was such a blessing back then.”
In 1982, the Archdiocese of Louisville donated the St. Paul School building, St. Paul Catholic Church, and the rectory—all of which are adjacent buildings—to us. St. Paul School was renovated into the Ozanam Inn Men’s Emergency Shelter, which now houses 70 single men, and St. Paul Catholic Church was converted into the Open Hand Kitchen, which now feeds almost 10,000 people per month.
Jett, who is a member of the Mary Queen of Peace parish, has volunteered at the Open Hand Kitchen for nearly four decades. Today, she serves lunch twice a month with two of her daughters.
“To me, she’s a saint. Truly,” said her daughter Mary.
When the children were young, they saw how their mom persevered while Frank was an alcoholic. However, he became sober for the last 18 years of his life until he passed away in 2005. None of Jett’s seven children struggled with drugs or alcohol, to which she is wholly grateful.
“God’s blessed me my whole life. He’s gotten me this far,” Jett said. “My guardian angel has watched over me since I was a little girl.”
Jett has 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She still walks two miles every day.